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If fewer preseason games, what about camp?

Posted by Darren Urban on August 8, 2017 – 10:13 am

The conversation about having fewer than four preseason games for NFL teams (although the Hall of Fame game gave the Cardinals five this year) has been ongoing for a number of years. Commissioner Roger Goodell recently brought it up again. There are logistics to evaluate, whether it be three or two games. Obviously, fewer of them would hurt most the fringe guys trying to get themselves some decent tape so that if they were released by their current team someone else could see what they were worth.

But the other question is about training camp itself. Currently, teams are allowed to go to camp 15 days before their first preseason game. Would that still be the case if there were fewer games? Would they make it longer, with an extra long stretch of practice before the first game? (Vets would love that.) One way around things is to schedule more joint practices with other teams. That would provide some controlled scrimmage situations. The hope in the end is that there are less injuries, in a sport where injuries are inevitable.

But in an environment where coaches already lament less time to prepare their teams, how it plays out is something to watch.


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After practice: Better work before Canton

Posted by Darren Urban on August 1, 2017 – 11:42 am

Bruce Arians was much happier about Tuesday’s practice than he had been about Monday. “I knew they’d bounce back,” he said, and it was all but necessary with a game coming Thursday. For the first time in camp, Arians split the team to two fields, in order to ramp up the reps for the younger players that will be playing against the Cowboys.

Many vets, actually, will not play. Arians ruled out the starters (although we’ll see if that ends up being all of them; do you consider giving Evan Boehm a few reps at right guard, for instance?) as well as backup quarterback Drew Stanton and new cornerback Tramon Williams. Stanton doesn’t need more reps with four preseason games left, and Williams still needs to learn the playbook.

While things were better Tuesday, they weren’t perfect. At the end in particular, Arians said “some young guys” had trouble getting lined up correctly in a two-minute drill. There were a couple of guys who could’ve gotten out of bounds after catches who didn’t, and Arians ended practice upset on the last one.

“Run a  great route, fall down and catch it, don’t get up and get out of bounds,” Arians said. “There’s only nine seconds left those are things you hopefully learn from. Everyone else should learn from them also.”

The last two days have been about learning from B.A. “If you can’t learn it after I get after you, you’re in trouble anyway.”

— Injuries bit cornerback, and now they are biting inside linebacker. Karlos Dansby (knee) wasn’t going to play Thursday anyway, but he’s missed three straight practices. Arians isn’t concerned. But backup Gabe Martin is out for a while with an Achilles injury, and newcomer Phillip Wheeler is day-to-day with some unknown aliment. Arians would rather not play Haason Reddick a lot Thursday. Scooby Wright and Zaviar Gooden are in line to get a lot of playing time Thursday.

— On the good side, cornerback Justin Bethel returned — Arians Monday had said it’d be another week, but then again, Williams showed up — and Arians said “it was great to see him today. He was full speed.” Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones is also doing more and more at practice.

— It’s been clear Tyrann Mathieu has been playing well as he rounds into Honey Badger shape, but he had a couple more interceptions during drills Tuesday. A high-level Mathieu is always fun to watch.

— Veteran kicker Phil Dawson was kicking at narrow practice goalposts at the outset of practice. No, there was no snap or rush. But Dawson nailed 60- and 63-yard field goals within the thin opening. It was impressive.


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After practice: Rough, but just a practice

Posted by Darren Urban on July 31, 2017 – 4:31 pm

There isn’t as much to say about practice today. One, the main story has already been covered well by Kyle right here. Two, you aren’t going to get much detail about who did what — well or not well — because the back half of the outside practices are shut off from reporting. (Bruce Arians brought up the conditioning, so that became fair game). It was a physical practice, and if anyone is wondering if Arians was going to be true to his word about making this camp harder than last year’s, do not fret. He is doing just that.

As upset as Arians was, though, it wasn’t the end of the world.

“It’s just a practice,” he said. “We didn’t play anybody. We just failed to handle the heat and the time.”

— The young guys had their issues — you know, the young guys who are going to be playing the majority of Thursday’s game. Arians was asked how the team was positioned for the Hall of Fame matchup against the Cowboys. “If today’s practice was any indication, it’s going to be a fire drill.”

— I can say that Tyrann Mathieu looked good yet again. Arians said he thought it was the first time Mathieu looked totally healthy.

— The last (and only) other time the Cardinals were made to run at practice? Arians said it was his first season, but it was actually his second.

— Arians was asked about running back Elijhaa Penny’s performance Saturday. “Really good. Moved the pile, caught the ball well. He’s been having a good camp, and if he gets hurt, it’s your ass.”

That drew laughs, after what happened Saturday with Ronald Zamort. So Kent Somers asked the only thing he could: Should we just ask you about guys on other teams?

“That’d be good,” Arians said, breaking into a big smile. “Really good.”

— LB Alani Fua was waived-injured with his knee. He’ll likely revert back to injured reserve, so in theory — depending on how long it takes him to get healthy — he’d be a candidate to return this season. Remember, two IR guys can come back now after the new rule was put in. That said, Fua has had a lot of injuries in his short career. It’s tough not to remember something Dave McGinnis used to say a lot: Availability is as important as ability.


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Corners wrecked by injuries again

Posted by Darren Urban on July 30, 2017 – 10:47 am

Sometimes, especially in training camp, it seems like a rash of injuries stays concentrated to a certain position. It’s got no empirical evidence to back it up, but Bruce Arians has alluded to it. Back in 2015, it was the running backs. Now, for a second straight season, it’s cornerback.

Yes, Justin Bethel should only be out a few days after hyperextending his knee. And the ankle issue for Elie Bouka isn’t supposed to be long-term. But the Cardinals already released Jumal Rolle with an injury settlement after Rolle couldn’t get straight with his hamstring, and now it seems Ronald Zamort — who had slid into Bethel’s first-team role while Bethel sat out — has torn his ACL and would be lost for the season.

It is reminiscent of last season, when the Cards had a bunch of cornerbacks get hurt. It started when Bethel, who was supposed to be the starter, broke his foot again in the offseason, needed surgery and never could get quite right. The Cardinals signed veteran Mike Jenkins, who tore his ACL. They signed veteran Alan Ball, who received an injury settlement after hurting his quadriceps muscle. Bouka ended up on IR after a hamstring issue.

UPDATE: The Cardinals are signing CB Tramon Williams.

It would make sense that the team sign someone sooner rather than later. Right now, the healthy cornerbacks on the roster are Patrick Peterson, Brandon Williams, and undrafted rookies Sojourn Shelton, Gump Hayes and Ryan Lewis. One plus: safety Harlan Miller has gotten a lot of reps at cornerback. Rookie safety Rudy Ford can also play there.

The Cardinals recently worked out veteran cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Tramon Williams.


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John Brown to miss some days

Posted by Darren Urban on July 28, 2017 – 12:53 pm

OK, so John Brown had a really good practice Thursday. But it came at a cost. Smoke strained a quadriceps muscle late in practice, and he’ll miss a few days — maybe up to a week. Not ideal, not after his injury issues, but coach Bruce Arians said it had nothing to do with the previous health problems and you hope it’s a few days off and then over. As Arians said today, this time in camp is all bonus time anyway because of the extra game (and I didn’t expect Brown to play much in the Hall of Fame game anyway.)

— The news for fellow WR Aaron Dobson is a little worse. His hamstring will keep him out longer than a week, Arians said.

— S Ironhead Gallon (knee) will return to practice on a limited basis today.

— T Jared Veldheer is back today after Arians gave him a personal day Thursday.

— Nothing new from Arians on the possibility of signing a cornerback. That’s Steve Keim’s department. CB Tramon Williams did work out for the team prior to Thursday’s practice, and we already know CB Brandon Flowers passed a physical too. I’m guessing this is about the contract to get someone in here at this point. “Hopefully,” Arians said. “I just look at them and say, ‘I like him.’ ”

— Arians on the work for Saturday’s Red-White practice: “There will be some live scrimmage we have not had in the past.”


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Resting Palmer again and Buc’s status

Posted by Darren Urban on July 27, 2017 – 12:10 pm

If there was any doubt about how careful the Cardinals were going to be with QB Carson Palmer this camp in an attempt to have him ready for the regular season, he will be resting at Thursday’s practice, the second time he’s sat out through a mere five practices thus far.

“I like practice,” Palmer said. “I enjoy what I do in the practice aspect. I like throwing in blitz period and team period and 7-on-7 and routes on air. But I’m listening to the professionals, the people that have studied this and read and been to seminars. I’m going with the recovery process and what people tell me to do.”

Again, it’s important to remember that the Cardinals have an extra stretch of camp this year because of the fifth preseason game, so this is all bonus practice anyway, especially for a veteran like Palmer. It’s smart to slow-play it like this if he needs to protect his arm.

— Arians said $LB Deone Bucannon, on PUP with his ankle, is doing some running. No timetable for a return, but Arians said he’d want Bucannon to have at least a week if not more of practice before playing in the opener. We’ll see if Bucannon ends up hitting that target.

— The good news was no one got hurt at Tuesday’s practice. S Ironhead Gallon (knee) and LB Jarvis Jones (NFI-quad) are close to returning — Jones could practice Friday, Arians said. LB Alani Fua (knee) is going to miss 2-to-4 weeks, Arians said.


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After practice: Scooby makes his mark

Posted by Darren Urban on July 25, 2017 – 5:15 pm

After a request to get a little more detailed about how practice goes, Kyle Odegard and I will try to give a few notes after each practice along those lines. Here’s one from Tuesday, which starts with linebacker Scooby Wright. Scooby loves to hit.

There wasn’t any true tackling that was supposed to happen per se, but Wright and big running back Elijhaa Penny came together on one big collision in which Wright hauled Penny to the ground. Later, Wright had another big hit. It’s still early to know if Wright will make the 53-man roster, but he’s certainly made an impression in the offseason and the start if camp. He’s good on special teams and he’s got that aggressive mentality.

Wright even had an interception of a Drew Stanton pass that came off the hands of a receiver — although Stanton likely would have been sacked on the play had there been sacks. The defensive pressure likely would have caused a few sacks earlier in practice. The protection seemed to improve as time went on

— Blaine Gabbert had some nice throws Tuesday (although he threw an interception to rookie linebacker Tre’Von Johnson that never had a chance to be completed.) Gabbert’s future is going to likely rest on preseason games, but you can tell he’s at one level and undrafted rookie Trevor Knight is below. Knight mostly was a spectator during team work Tuesday with the other three QBs getting the work.

— It’s been humid inside the stadium. Not sure if it’s just moist grass being rolled in or the weather outside, but I’m guessing players are losing quite a few pounds each workout with the sweat.


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Camp scuffle? “Rank has privilege”

Posted by Darren Urban on July 24, 2017 – 12:13 pm

Bruce Arians has never been shy about his feelings about fighting in training camp — nobody better do it. So as the pads come on for camp and the level of intensity rises, inevitably, it’s something Arians will watch out for. Talking about hitting with the pads on, Arians said “Just don’t take anyone to the ground if you want to stick around.”

(He’s a poet and he didn’t know it.)

And if someone does?

“Throw them off the field,” Arians said. “If it’s the wrong guys, I’ll cut ’em.” Well-timed pause. “Rank has privilege.

“I don’t think any of our ranked guys are gonna fight.”

Arians does make sure his message gets across. “They know that has no place in football. It’s not in the rule book, you fight and you’re ejected, so why practice things that aren’t in the rule book?”

— With the heavy rain across the Valley — and the University of Phoenix Stadium field sitting outside the building as usual this morning as it came down — Arians acknowledged he was a little concerned with the field. But it’s being rolled in as I write this and it looks OK. Doesn’t really matter anyway. Arians said there wasn’t a circumstance where he’d change practice because of a wet field. “We are going to play on that field anyway,” he said. “We better learn how to play on it quick.”

— QB Drew Stanton and WR Jaron Brown will not practice today in a scheduled day off.


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Badger and the first padded practice

Posted by Darren Urban on July 24, 2017 – 9:11 am

It’s the third practice, but today will be the big one. The pads finally go on.

“You just can’t hit ’31’ and ’11,'” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “Everyone else is free game.”

Honey Badger had a small smile as he said it, but it’s kind of true (it goes without saying Carson Palmer would join David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald in that group.) When Bruce Arians talks about wanting a more physical camp, this is where we will see it. Arians already noted that there won’t be a ton more tackling — maybe two or three scrimmage-like periods, with mostly young guys, rather than just the one at the Red-White practice we usually see — but there is a quest for a mentality upgrade from where the Cardinals came out of camp last season.

(We already know some vets will be handled carefully, which is a no-brainer. Arians already said Fitz and Palmer aren’t playing in the Hall of Fame game.)

The best part for me is always the one-on-ones: Linebackers versus tight ends and backs, offensive line versus defensive line. Those are intense short-term battles. And this is when football season feels like it has really arrived.

If you are looking for the camp practice schedule to figure out when you want to visit, check out azcardinals.com/cardscamp.


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An early look at the depth chart spots

Posted by Darren Urban on July 23, 2017 – 9:34 am

There is no official depth chart until right before the first game of the preseason (which, given that the Cardinals play Aug. 3 in Canton against the Cowboys, is sooner than normal anyway), but after the first practice of training camp, we get an idea at least of how the players are stacked for now.

Among the areas to note: The base defense and the offensive line.

On the line, the first unit was pretty plain during offseason work:
LT D.J. Humphries
LG Mike Iupati
C A.Q. Shipley
RG Evan Boehm
RT Jared Veldheer

The second unit lined up this way:
LT Ulrick John
LG Kaleb Johnson
C Cole Toner
RG Tony Bergstrom
RT John Wetzel

Interesting to see that rookie guard Dorian Johnson is not even second unit right now, considering so many have talked about him challenging Boehm for a starting spot. But realistically, it’s not a surprise. A lot can change over the five weeks of camp, but this is where they are right now.

Defensively, here’s how they lined up in base (first-second unit)

DT Josh Mauro           Robert Nkemdiche
NT Corey Peters          Rodney Gunter
DT Frostee Rucker     Olsen Pierre
OLB Markus Golden   Kareem Martin
ILB Haason Reddick   Gabe Martin
ILB Karlos Dansby      Scooby Wright
OLB Chandler Jones   Alani Fua
CB Patrick Peterson   Jumal Rolle
CB Justin Bethel         Brandon Williams
S Tyrann Mathieu       Budda Baker
S Tyvon Branch           Antoine Bethea

Things change in sub-packages — Bethea, for instance, is ahead of Baker at this point, on the first unit — but again, this will ebb and flow to a certain degree.


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